Despite still allowing walk ins, New Fairfield officials say it was a safe summer at Squantz Pond State Park. There were some days where the parked closed due to capacity, but the number of people parking elsewhere and walking in was down significantly. Other than a couple of days where it was hectic, First Selectman Susan Chapman says it wasn't too bad.
A proposed regulation to ban walk-ins at state parks after parking lot capacity is reached was rejected by the state legislature's Regulation Review Committee in January. DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain says that means they don't have any legal authority to stop people from walking in. He added that it would be physically difficult to police the whole border area of a park to prevent it.
There's a history of drownings at Squantz, more than a dozen people in the last two decades. DEEP implemented a 250 car limit after a particularly bad summer, but local officials believe that allowing unlimited walk-ins undermines safety. Schain acknowledged that the parking was limited in order to have a manageable crowd, and walk-ins means there will be more people than planned for.
Another concern is pedestrian safety. Route 39 is narrow, and there are no real shoulders on either side of the road. Some people walked about two miles from the Town Park to Squantz Pond. In an effort to prevent that, New Fairfield raised the parking fee at the Town Park two years ago for non-residents from $25 to $40. In July, the Board of Selectman increased the fee again. Non-residents were then required to pay a parking fee of $60.